‘My favorite year, so far’
A year ago, Bob Pietrack couldn’t get a return phone call from anyone but his mom.
On Thursday, he did two TV interviews, a few print interviews, a couple of radio calls — and he still had to prepare his Fort Lewis College Skyhawks men’s basketball team for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, which they won. That earned the Skyhawks a trip to the NCAA Division II championship tournament, which begins this weekend.
That’s how life is this year for the youngest Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference head coach.
And the conference’s youngest Coach of the Year.
And the conference’s second coach to lead his alma mater to a league championship.
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And the coach of the conference’s regular season champions.
The Skyhawks spent 10 weeks in the NCAA Division II Top 25, and four weeks in the Top 10 among the 350 Division II schools.
Preseason polls had them picked sixth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
For the week of Feb. 22, he was the Division II national coach of the week.
Nothing was easy. The Skyhawks won the conference title with a one-point win over the Colorado School of Mines. Junior point guard Joshua Blaylock hit two free throws with less than one second left to lift the Skyhawks to a 73-72 win in Saturday’s championships game.
The Skyhawks play Dallas Baptist tomorrow in the Big Dance, Division II style.
All State Everything
You remember Pietrack. He’s a 1999 Eagle Valley High School grad and was All State in everything but tiddly winks.
• He was a four-year starter at point guard for the Devils.
• Earned All State basketball honors twice and was all conference three times.
• He holds the state 3A record for career assists with 702.
• He led the state in assists three seasons.
• He earned All State honors four times as a first baseman in baseball.
• He was All State twice as a quarterback in football.
• He played college basketball and baseball at Fort Lewis and quit baseball because he wanted to be a basketball coach.
He spent 11 years as Bob Hofman’s assistant at Fort Lewis, handling all the recruiting. When Hofman retired at the end of last season, Fort Lewis made Pietrack their interim head coach and started a search.
They didn’t search far and dropped the “interim” handle from Pietrack’s title just about the time he was named the NCAA’s Division II Coach of the Week.
Fort Lewis Athletic Director Gary Hunter said Pietrack never really was an interim, and the school has every intention of keeping him.
“Everyone is an interim in their lives. No one is guaranteed anything,” Pietrack said. “It was an opportunity that I was proud to be offered.”
He says it’s like going to take a test you’re prepared for and you know what the answers are going to be.
“I was ready for it. I knew what to do. I never looked over my shoulder,” Pietrack said.
Home is where your mom is
Pietrack’s dad and mom, Dave and Christa, live in Eagle, but they are likely moving to Durango this spring. They were fixtures at Eagle Valley games for a decade.
“I had some really good coaches, not just in Phil Cain and Todd Potestio in basketball,” Coach Pietrack said.
He learned intensity from Devils football coach John Ramunno. From Robert Ellsworth he learned about the love.
Potestio’s lessons in Xs and Os, Cain’s understanding and his ability to adjust — they all stuck, he said.
“Take a little piece of all the coaches I’ve had, plus Coach Hofman, and you morph into what you learned. A piece of all of them is in me,” he said.
He remembers that he scored four points in his first Devils varsity game against Soroco.
“I still consider the Eagle Valley my home. It will always have a special place for me,” he said.
Skyhawks soared early
When no one else knew what this team might be, the Skyhawks had an early glimpse that this season might be special.
Every year the University of Wyoming plays a preseason exhibition game against a Division II opponent in Laramie.
Wyoming is last year’s Mountain West Conference champion and had won 20 of these exhibitions in a row.
Fort Lewis beat Wyoming on their home court in overtime.
The Skyhawks have six seniors who had never been All League, and they all stepped up their game this season, Pietrack said.
Two juniors and a sophomore did earn All Conference honors, so the future looks bright.
Every game they have four or five players in double figures. That’s how you win. You don’t win with one guy scoring 35.
“If you took it all apart, the pieces aren’t that impressive, but put it together it’s a pretty impressive team that plays like a team,” he said.
A family affair
While the Eagle Valley is where Bob started his road to success, Durango is quickly becoming Pietrack Country. You know that his parents are moving there this year. But there’s another family member on the way.
Pietrack and his wife, Lauren, met when they were both Fort Lewis students. They’re about to be joined by a baby girl, Ella.
“2016 is turning into a special year,” he said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.